By Raheela Chaudhry
NAUKOT, Pakistan, 15 March 2012 – On a lonely roadside in Naukot, Sindh Province, is a small collection of shabby tents. Many of them are makeshift constructions, plastic sheets covered in clothing, barely large enough to accommodate an adult standing upright. But for 10-year-old Laxmi and her family, one of these tents is home.
Last summer, torrential monsoon rains struck this region of Pakistan, destroying the small hut where her family lived. They were left with just a few personal belongings and the rope beds that constitute their only furniture. Since that day, Laxmi, her parents and four siblings have lived in this tent.
An uncertain future
It is not a comfortable shelter. The sharp desert wind blows through the plastic sheeting, and Laxmi often wakes up to find herself covered in dust. Her youngest brother cries all night because of the bitter cold.
They are among the 5.1 million people, half of them children, who were affected by the severe flooding that struck Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces. An estimated 797,000 homes were damaged, and 41 per cent of them were destroyed. The worst-hit areas are some of Pakistan’s most impoverished, and had already been affected massive flooding in 2010.
While most of those affected have gradually returned to their home communities, some, like Laxmi’s family, are still displaced. Dozens of families in this tent settlement are in the same situation, either lacking the money to return home or still waiting for the floodwaters to recede from their home communities.
An opportunity to learn
Under these difficult circumstances, Laxmi takes comfort in an exciting new opportunity. With UNICEF support, a Temporary Learning Centre (TLC), or emergency tent school, has been established in the camp. One of her brothers is a regular attendee, and Laxmi has started going as well. It is the first chance she has had to go to school, and it is opening up possibilities that were previously unimaginable.
“I want to learn more. When I grow up, I can start working like girls in the cities,” she said. ”Maybe I can become a teacher. But it is difficult. I have only just learnt my alphabet and counting.”
With 60 per cent of schools in affected areas damaged, UNICEF has established 2,070 TLCs, benefiting over 100,000 children in Sindh and Balochistan. Intended to ensure that education is not interrupted, the TLCs have also attracted over 39,000 children to school for the first time, including 16,000 girls. As people head home, TLCs are being shifted from camps to areas of return, so children’s schooling can continue.
TLCs are also designed to promote proper hygiene and sanitation, helping prevent the disease of spreading in areas with stagnant water or lacking access to adequate sanitation. Water tanks have been installed to store safe drinking water in some 500 TLCs, benefitting over 45,000 children. Through various channels, UNICEF has also provided 1.5 million people with information on hygiene, sanitation and disease prevention.
More help is needed
Nevertheless, the Naukot encampment is short of vital support. Many are struggling to get through the bitter winter. Said one woman, “Our children don’t have enough food. They cannot sleep at night because of the cold. We don’t even have any medical facilities.”
For her and for families who return home, continued support will be essential to rebuilding their lives. Many returnees lack the means to reconstruct their homes, and are living in spontaneous settlements. An estimated 98 per cent of settlement sites lack management. Aid partners are working to provide further assistance, including technical guidance, but additional funding is urgently required.